For Boeing Starliner and Goodyear Tesla tires, 3D printing is a reality

A photo shows a non-pneumatic tire (NPT), an airless tire, during Goodyear’s NPT tire presentation in Colmar-Berg, Luxembourg, May 17, 2022, where the tire maker has a new factory where it is experimenting with 3D printing.

Francois Walschaerts | AFP | Getty Images

Additive manufacturing is poised for broader industry adoption as big companies Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and Boeing along with small innovative start-ups prove it can work well at scale in manufacturing. .

In May, Goodyear opened a $77 million factory in Luxembourg that focuses on 3D printing and can manufacture tires four times faster in small batches than with conventional production. Goodyear is also testing its new 3D Printed Airless Tire Technology on Tesla Electric Vehicles and autonomous delivery robots from Starship Technologies. She has worked for several years on improving manufacturing techniques at an R&D center near Columbus, Ohio.

By 2030, Goodyear aims to bring maintenance-free, air-free tires to market, and 3D printing is part of that effort for the Akron-based tire manufacturing leader founded in 1898 and named after the innovator Charles Goodyear. Currently, around 2% of its production comes from additive manufacturing and greater integration into the mix is ​​in sight.

“As with any innovation, targeting the right use case is key. 3D printing is not for every job. complexity and in smaller batch sizes,” said Chris Helsel, senior vice president, global operations and CTO at Goodyear. “There is always an advantage to efficiently manufacturing large runs of tires through a normal assembly line.”

Taking advantage of new technology takes patience. “You can’t bring it, turn it on. It’s not a short trip. We’ve been on this road for 10 to 12 years,” Helsel said. When it first released its 3D-printed airless tires in 2017, Goodyear began fitting high-end mower models made by Bad Boy Mowers.

Recent history and future growth of 3D printing

The technology of printing objects layer by layer from computerized designs dates back to the early 1980s. Now it is transforming factories and is no longer considered a novelty, although it was popularized more of ten years by desktop 3D printing company MakerBot in the consumer hobbyist market. Today, a range of products from aircraft parts to tooth aligners and car seats are additively manufactured.

This new technology is seen as a competitive advantage and a way to improve the manufacturing base and supply chain in the United States. But it may not revolutionize industrial production as a whole.

“Additive manufacturing is still a very small, specialized technology,” said Jörg Bromberger, director of strategy and operations at McKinsey in Berlin, and lead author of the consultancy’s recent report on industrial technology. “Massive investment in additive manufacturing can bring some effect, but it’s still quite limited,” he said.

Primarily useful for manufacturing high-value specialty parts and smaller production volumes, Bromberger pegged additive manufacturing at 2-3% of the $12 trillion production market.

3D printing industry consultant Wohlers Associates expects additive manufacturing to grow at a relatively healthy pace and forecasts the global market to reach $85.3 billion in 2031, up from $15.2 billion. by 2021. The main industrial sector using this technology is aerospace, followed by medical/dental and automotive, while the most common applications of 3D printing are the manufacturing of end-use parts and working prototypes, according to the company’s Wohlers 2022 report.

Key benefits of the technology include design flexibility in various 3D shapes that may perform better or cost less, and custom part production. Other advantages are the reduction of time-consuming pre-production processes and the manufacture of on-demand products from digital files.

One of the biggest barriers to adoption is the cost of investment. Prices for industrial 3D printing machines can range from $25,000 to $500,000 and up to $1 million for large systems. Other limitations are the lack of engineering talent to implement the technology, a lack of knowledge among companies about why and how to use it, cultural resistance to change on the shop floor, and too few printing systems. End-to-end 3D.

Ongoing vendor consolidation in the industrial market could provide more comprehensive service and one-stop shopping for manufacturers. For example, Burlington, Mass. Desktop Metal acquired The ExOne Company in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania in a November 2021 deal that brought together multiple additive manufacturing solutions under one roof.

But the stock market’s reception of 3D printing as a pure investment theme hasn’t been good in recent years. Desktop Metal has lost nearly 80% of its value since its IPO in 2021, and other players in the 3D printing industry have performed poorly even as the technology advances.

In another notable partnership, some of the nation’s top manufacturers are working with a family-owned Rust Belt company to 3D print components.

Humtown Products, a 63-year-old family-owned foundry near Youngstown, Ohio, embraced 3D printing in 2014 as an efficient way to manufacture industrial cores and molds. Its early adoption helped the company stay in business after weathering the 2009 recession and as the American foundry business relocated or died out in the face of cheaper foreign competition. Humtown Products has been able to retain major corporate customers including GE, Caterpillar and Cummins.

Today, its additive manufacturing division represents 55% of global turnover and is growing by 50% per year. The move to 3D printing was the company’s “Kodak moment,” said owner and president Mark Lamoncha. “If you’re not in the next space, you’re broke,” Lamoncha said. “This industry is at a turning point towards commercialization and in many disciplines it is like driving a race car,” he said.

Truck engine maker Cummins uses Humtown as a supplier that can improve its accuracy in manufacturing 3D printed castings and has streamlined production by printing large single-piece parts rather than composites. “We’ve had good success with that. Volumes are starting to increase, and although the prices are still a bit higher than conventional processes, it’s much more accurate, and we’ve been able to triple our processing capacity, or output,” said Larry Lee, Cummins Technical Advisor.

Humtown Products, a 63-year-old family-owned foundry near Youngstown, Ohio, first adopted 3D printing in 2014 to manufacture industrial cores and molds for customers including GE, Cummins and Caterpillar.

Humtown Products

Humtown Products was able to harness the technology thanks to a group of 3D printing resources in Youngstown that businesses, government and academia have supported to help revive the local economy of the former steel town. This technology hub encompasses several entities that are positioning northeast Ohio at the forefront of the 3D printing industrial revolution: the government-backed industry accelerator America Makes, the business incubator of Youngstown home to 12 additive startups, such as industrial machine builder and designer JuggerBot3d, and Youngstown State University’s Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center and new $12 million Training Center of Excellence.

“Regions see the opportunity to build the workforce around this technology, but there is still a lack of knowledge about lessons learned and success stories,” said John Wilczynski, executive director of America Makes. “We aim to fill this gap.”

Aerospace company Boeing is working hard to refine its own approach to additive manufacturing. Boeing’s Additive Manufacturing Center in Auburn, Washington is designed to research the use of advanced technology.

“For the industry, it’s most definitely a competitive advantage because you can design in a way that you can’t with traditional production,” said Melissa Orme, who has served as vice president of additive manufacturing since 2019. a role that cuts across the company’s three activities. units manufacturing commercial aircraft, satellites and defense systems. It works with a team of 100 engineers, researchers and other specialists to advance the development of the technology.

Orme cited benefits in reduced production times by a factor of ten, simplified one-large-piece design for assembly, and increased durability.

“Right now we are very mature in using 3D printing for satellites,” she said. “It could become the norm to have 3D printed parts on every satellite.”

For Boeing’s subsidiary Millennium Space Systems, acquired in 2018 as a manufacturer of small satellites for national security space, 100% 3D-printed satellites were manufactured this year with 30% less cost and a reduction in five months of production time. A regular user of the technology for several years, Boeing also has 3D printed parts for helicopters and seats for the Starliner spacecraft, as well as components for the Boeing 787 and tooling for the 787 wings.

Even so, challenges remain in adopting the new technology. “It takes a cultural shift to embrace it,” Orme said. “Engineers learn to design with reduced risk, which leads them to traditional manufacturing. We need more production data to achieve a comfort level in design for additive,” she said. , which equates to seven decades of traditional manufacturing data. “Once we do that, we can eliminate or reduce the risk of this evolving technology,” she said.